- GOP Sen. Pat Roberts holds a 49-48% lead over independent Greg Orman
- The results suggest Roberts is consolidating support among rank-and-file Republicans
- The race could hinge on how many Republicans turn out to vote
Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts has galvanized enough rank-and-file Republican voters to close the gap with independent challenger Greg Orman in one of the nation's hottest races, a new CNN/ORC poll
Roberts leads Orman, 49% to 48%, according to the survey of 687 likely voters that was conducted October 2-6.
Orman's chances drastically improved -- and the race was catapulted into the national spotlight -- when Democratic candidate Chad Taylor dropped off the ballot in September, allowing Orman to appeal to a broad swath of anti-Roberts voters on the right and left without competition.
Hoping to hold onto a seat that could be key to determining majority control of the Senate, Republicans have scrambled to paint Orman as a Democrat in disguise and to criticize the entrepreneur's business dealings.
Roberts hit that point hard during a debate with Orman on Wednesday, repeatedly slamming Orman as a "liberal Democrat" who would continue the policies of President Barack Obama and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid. Orman has run as a Democrat in the past, but has given money to and voted for candidates in both parties.
The survey's results, with a 3.5 percentage point margin of error, are a major reversal from recent polls that have found Orman surging ahead. An NBC/Marist poll released three days ago showed the challenger with a 10 percentage point advantage over Roberts.
"Turnout is likely to be key -- the higher the number of Republicans who vote, the better for Roberts, and Republicans have been at least 43% of the vote (and usually higher) in Kansas elections since 2000," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.
"Roberts must convince disaffected Republicans to like him again. An 80% favorable rating among Republican likely voters in the current poll indicates that he may have closed that part of the deal," he said.
The CNN/ORC International poll found that likely voters' views of Roberts have improved, compared to previous polls. Fifty percent said they view the three-term senator favorably, while 45% view Roberts unfavorably. Orman, meanwhile, is viewed favorably by 48% of the likely voters surveyed, and unfavorably by 33%. Nineteen percent aren't sure, according to the poll.
Roberts enjoys an 84% to 15% lead among likely Republican voters, while Orman is backed by nearly all Democrats and 62% of independents, compared to 33% of independents who support Roberts.
The survey suggested there's plenty of room for movement in the race's final month, with 21% of likely voters saying they could still change their minds.
Based on what Orman told reporters Wednesday after his debate with Roberts, voters won't know until after Election Day the answer to a critical question: which party he will caucus with if he wins.
Orman says he would caucus with the majority party. But it is possible that the election results could put the Senate at 50-49. In that scenario, there would be no majority party until and unless Orman choses sides between Democrats and Republicans.
"If I get elected and neither party is in the majority, then what i'm going to do is I'm going sit down with both sides, propose a pro-problem solving agenda, and ask both sides whether or not they're willing to support that agenda. And we're going to be likely to support the agenda and the party that's most likely to embrace a pro-problem solving agenda," Orman told CNN.
Translation: Orman will be in the cat bird's seat and plans to use it big time to try to get one of the parties to agree to an agenda he supports.
"I think it's a great thing for Kansas, I think it's an opportunity for Kansas to define the agenda in the United States Senate and finally get us back into the business of solving problems," Orman said.
The poll also found Gov. Sam Brownback, who's faced criticism after pushing for steep tax cuts, locked in a dead heat with Democrat Paul Davis in his bid for a second term. Each drew 49% support.
Democrats won't be getting any help from Obama in the blood-red state. Just 32% of likely Kansas voters said they approve of the job the President is doing.